Remember going to pubs and not having to wear a mask or socially distance? Remember going to football matches? Remember dancing in night clubs? Remember when the vast majority of Brits had no idea where Barnard Castle was?
If a pubgoer had forecast at the start of the year that arguably Britain’s biggest peacetime foreign policy decision would plummet down the public’s list of priorities in the months leading up to the UK’s departure from the European Union, you’d have likely switched them from beer to tap water.
Yet, in an ongoing YouGov poll asking the public to highlight the most important issues facing the country, as of 9 November only 47% considered Brexit important, behind health and the economy due to the ongoing Covid-19 crisis and now more than 50,000 deaths.
In comparison, on 16 September 2019 BC (before Covid) 75% thought Brexit was among the most important issues facing the country compared to 35% health and 25% the economy.
Though on 30 December this stood at 63%, by 23 March and Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to close of pubs to prevent the spread of coronavirus, just 25% of Brits thought the impending departure from the EU was among the most important issues facing the country.
- To help get back up to speed, check out our round-up of what the pub sector said about Brexit in 2019.
Impact difficult to determine
While Brexit was technically delivered at 11pm on 31 January 2020, Britain entered an 11-month transition period during which travel to and from the EU, freedom of movement and unencumbered UK-EU trade continued while negotiations are finalised.
When the transition period ends on 31 December, Britain will need to either implement a trade deal with the EU or “no deal” World Trade Organisation, terms – which would lead to tariffs being introduced on many imports and exports, potentially increasing costs for businesses and consumers – on 1 January 2021.
Though negotiations to plug gaps in a post-Brexit trade deal are expected to continue next week according to the BBC, just 50 days from now British businesses will be operating under a new, currently TBC, set of rules.
But what could this mean for pub operators in an industry already stricken by Covid-19?
“The impact and demands of Brexit are going to be much more difficult to determine due to the pandemic,” UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls explained. “We had anticipated a shortfall in workers, but we no longer know if that will be the case.
“Covid-related business failures and expected high unemployment are likely to mean that the outlook is significantly different to the one that was anticipated at this point last year.
“If businesses need help in preparing, there is no shortage of Government resources about Brexit,” she continued.
“Businesses should also make sure they consult with their suppliers to identify and try to alleviate any potential expected shortages or delays. Try to think about current unknowns that could arise as problems.
“Admittedly, this is going to be made all the more difficult due to the instability being caused by the pandemic.”
Need for grit and determination
Steve Alton from the British Institute of Innkeeping (BII) adds that outside of potential pricing fluctuations, a key focus for the pub sector will be employment.
“In the new year, as pubs start to trade under more normal conditions and have a need to increase their teams, for many roles they will undoubtedly need to employ from within the UK,” he told The Morning Advertiser (MA).
“Finding and retaining great people will be a challenge, as will upskilling those staff members who are potentially new to the pub trade, providing them with comprehensive training and development.
“Whilst there may be some challenges in sourcing ingredients and products from Europe, many customers have fed back their preference to the use of alternative and locally sourced produce, a unique aspect of the offer of pubs today,” he continued.
“Our members are resilient, adaptable and positive and we know that these additional challenges will be met with the same grit and determination that has seen them through 2020 and will continue to do so as we leave the European Union.”